Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship Px8 noise-cancelling headphones are more expensive than many competitors in the segment, approaching the price range of wired, audiophile-friendly models at $699. The headphones are extremely comfortable, support high-resolution audio playback on some Android devices, or even support wired playback via a USB-C port. We also noticed some noise cancellation improvement over the $399 Px7 S2. However, for $699, there simply isn’t enough here to compete with Sony’s top-tier $399.99 WH-1000XM5 headphones, which offer commendable audio quality as well as noise cancellation for nearly half the price.
Codecs with High Design and Quality
The Px8 headphones come in black with metallic grey accents or white with tan and silver accents. They have a circumaural (over-ear) design with a heavily cushioned headband as well as ear pads made of Napa leather, regardless of colour. Even after long listening sessions, the fit is ridiculously comfortable. The earcups attach to die-cast aluminium arms that swivel flat to fit inside the included case, and the earpads hug the ears.
Bowers & Wilkins’ new 40mm carbon cone drivers are housed within the earcups, which the company claims provide “exceptionally low distortion” and “ultra-fast response.” B&W does not provide frequency range information.
The AptX Adaptive, AptX HD, AptX, AAC, and SBC codecs are supported by the Bluetooth 5.2 headphones. Audiophiles will likely prefer the 24-bit/48KHz-capable AptX HD, which locks in and maintains its high bitrate. In comparison, adaptive AptX employs a constantly changing bitrate that prioritises either lower latency or high overall quality. Some, but not all, Android users will be able to enjoy the high-fidelity experience. Support for AptX, let alone AptX HD, on Android devices is patchy, but Google Fast Pair is on board. AAC provides high-quality playback for iPhone users, but nothing goes beyond hi-res territory.
Bowers & Wilkins Music app
The Bowers & Wilkins Music app (available for Android and iOS) is visually simple and easy to use. When you pair the headphones, a graphic appears at the top of the display with a percentage estimate of battery life below it. There are four sub-sections further down: All Your Music in One Place, Tone Controls, Support, as well as Quick Start Guide. The All Your Music section of the app provides access to streaming services such as Deezer, Quboz, and Tidal. If you have accounts with these services, you can use the B&W app to access them. It’s unclear why this is an advantage when there’s no reason to use the app just after the initial pairing process, but some users may find it useful.
The Environment Control section of the Tone Controls screen includes Noise Cancellation, Pass Through, and Off modes. The three modes can only be switched between, not adjusted. A simple two-band EQ with sliders for treble and bass (-6dB to +6dB) allows for minor adjustments to the audio below, but it won’t satisfy anyone hoping for a full five-band EQ.
You can manage the priority of the devices you pair with the headphones in the Connections section for example, choose to automatically connect to the most recent device you paired or prioritise specific devices. You can configure the Quick Action button to manage either Environmental Control (ANC/Ambient modes) as well as Voice Assistant settings below this.
The noise cancellation performance of the headphones is excellent. This isn’t surprising given that they share the noise cancellation circuitry and microphones with the less expensive Px7 S2 model.
During testing, the Px8 headphones reduced powerful low-frequency rumble, such as that heard on a train, to a much lower level. They also successfully reduced the lows and mids from a recording of a busy restaurant with clattering dishes as well as chattering conversation, although some of the more complex highs made it through.
Finally, they’re not as effective against lows and mids as the Bose QuietComfort 45. Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones, like B&W’s, use an adaptive approach to noise cancellation, but to a greater extent. And, similar to the Apple AirPods Max, the Px8 headphones can sometimes be felt creating a new noise cancellation profile in real time.
Noise cancellation is handled by a six-mic array in B&W’s headphones. Two of the microphones specifically ensure that the active noise cancellation process has no effect on audio performance, but this is not the case in practice, as the headphones sound different when ANC is enable (namely, the bass is richer). They don’t sound bad in either case, but the Bose and Sony models don’t suffer from this.
Rich Sound but Affected
The headphones provide a lovely rendition of a flat response. What you hear is mostly accurate, but the lows have some extra richness. Meanwhile, the high-mids and highs are clear and present without sounding overly sculpted. Activating noise cancellation or Pass Through mode, on the other hand, is analogous to toggling a bass boost button. The ANC provides a richer sound signature than simply increasing the bass fader in the app.
With noise cancellation turned off, the headphones deliver relatively accurate low-frequency response on tracks with heavy sub-bass content, such as The Knife’s “Silent Shout.” They do an excellent job of preserving dynamics and maintaining consistent bass levels across various volume ranges (as thoughtfully implemented digital signal processing should). Turning on ANC here gives the mix a little more bass presence, but it’s not dramatic.
“Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, by Bill Callahan, gives us a better sense of their sound signature. With ANC turned off, the drums on this track sound full and natural, with a slight thump. When you increase the bass in the app, they sound slightly fuller, as do Callahan’s baritone vocals.
The audio performance of Bowers & Wilkins’ Px8 headphones is flawless. However, while their noise cancellation occasionally impressed us, it never outperformed competing models that cost nearly half the price. So, despite excellent sound and solid ANC, the price is simply too high for what Bowers & Wilkins provides.